At the next Committee of the Whole meeting on October 17, 2018, committee members will discuss the possibility of changing the way Public Fire Protection Fees are being collected. Past practice has been that this charge is recovered by placing it on the property tax levy every year. The City is currently using property tax dollars to subsidize Black River Falls Municipal Utilities at a rate of $286,931 per year for facilities in the City of Black River Falls. This means that everyone that gets a property tax bill is paying a portion of this charge. Due to budget constraints and State levy limits, the City can no longer afford to subsidize the utility for Public Fire Protection Fees through the use of general property taxes and still maintain services and address the City’s impending capital improvement needs. If the fees are moved to a direct charge on the water bill, utility customers would pay for a service that was previously subsidized by only the City’s property taxpayers. At the Committee of the Whole meeting, committee members will discuss the option to move this charge from property tax bills to utility bills as of January 1, 2020. The added charge on the utility bills would be based on water meter size, and preliminary estimates indicate residential water customers with a 5/8’ or 3/4” water meter could expect to see an approximate $10.10 increase on their monthly utility bill for public fire protection. Provisions in the last state budget bill allow municipalities to move this fee from the tax levy to the utility bill without having to lower the municipalities tax levy. Moving the Public Fire Protection Fees to utility bills and not lowering property taxes would allow the City to use these tax levy dollars to maintain vital services and fund capital improvements. There are several municipalities in the state that have already made this change or are considering it as they struggle to comply with the State’s expenditure restraint program and mandated levy limits.

The Public Fire Protection Fee is regulated by the State of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission (PSC). Public Fire Protection Fees enable the public water utility to recover the costs for the water used for fighting fires, costs associated with constructing and maintaining extra water system capacity to allow delivery of large amounts of water, and a portion of the costs associated with wells, pumps, storage facilities, water mains, and hydrants. This cost has nothing to do with the Black River Falls Fire Department. The Public Fire Protection Fee covers the costs of Black River Falls Municipal Utilities to be able to deliver water for fighting fires and is completely independent of any expenses that the fire department may incur in order to use the water to fight a fire. If the City decides to move forward with this proposal, Black River Falls Municipal Utilities would submit an application to the Public Service Commission (PSC), the application would be reviewed by the PSC, a public hearing would be scheduled, and the PSC would issue a decision to approve or deny the request. The entire process would take 3-6 months to complete.

All interested parties are urged to attend the Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 beginning at 6:00pm at City Hall located at 101 S. Second Street in Black River Falls, WI. For more information, contact the City Administrator at 715-284-2315 or send an email to city.admin@blackriverfalls.us.